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Is Blurb a Solution for Geeks Who Write?


If there’s one thing that geeks seem to have plenty of its ideas. Those might be ideas for new businesses and products, but they could also be ideas about getting more from technology. After all, few people have a better understanding of hardware and software than the people who create them and use them every day.

As long as other people can benefit from those ideas, that knowledge is valuable. But delivering it in a form that generates income isn’t easy. The most obvious method is to write a blog, plaster the sides of the pages with ads, load up on affiliate products and work hard to bring in traffic… while posting daily and building a loyal following.

That can work. There’s no shortage of blogs on tech-related topics (although how many of them turn a profit for their writers is a whole other business.) But the ultimate goal for any tech-head with advice to share is to put it in book form. Not only can you enjoy the passive income that derives from a product that’s ready-made and ready to ship, but you can’t beat the bragging rights of having your name on the dust jacket and your picture on the back.

To be successful though, a book has to have a central theme. It has to have a central idea which your suggestions can make happen. For Gina Trapani of LifeHacker.com, for example, that idea was that technology can make life more efficient in the same way that smart hacking can improve inefficient software.

A central idea like that is the minimum and it was enough for Gina to attract the attention of a literary agent… who was quickly followed by six others.

But even that doesn’t mean that the path to successful geek author will be smooth sailing.

Gina Trapani found that it took three months just to create the proposal and she still had to create her own marketing plan and rely on her blog’s readership to supply buyers.

For techies with a book in them but no loyal blog following, the process is likely to be even harder. If you’re looking to take the traditional route then you can expect to write a lot of query letters to a lot of agents… and receive a lot of rejections even before you’re asked to put together a complete proposal.

There is an alternative though, and it’s one that’s strangely underused by people who know about technology.

Blurb.com is an online print-on-demand service that lets anyone produce a book and make it available for sale. You can either order a bunch of copies and sell them yourself any way you can, or you can put them in Blurb’s online bookstore, charge a mark-up to the printing costs and let the site worry about production and delivery.

You’d just have to take the cash.

The site was founded by Eileen Gittins who had been the CEO of two venture capital-financed software companies. In 2005, she managed to raise $2m and hired a bunch of designers and developers to start building the platform.

Although the idea behind the site owes much to vanity publishing, Blurb is actually dependent on a neat bit of software.

“Blurb BookSmart [is] a free client download, works on either a Mac or PC [and] produces a highly standardized file that drastically reduces the manual labor for set-up and printing — thereby making copies of one economic,” Eileen explains.

The program makes creating the book’s layout very simple and even lets wannabe authors slurp images directly from their collections at Flickr.

And so far, that picture publishing been the main use for Blurb. Although Eileen points out that:

“increasingly we are seeing professional books like portfolio books, client presentation books, company capability books”

and adds that the service is used by:

“…architects, commercial and prosumer photographers, visual designers of all kinds, artists, travelers, bloggers, family historians…”

the most popular genre by far is Art and Photography.

In fact, the Computers & Internet section of Blurb’s bookstore has just one entry, a book entitled “GuiFX Collection” by the creatively pseudonymed GuiFX User. The Business Books category also has a collection of essays entitled “Organizing and Managing in IT: Stating the Obvious” by Hendrik van Wyk.

And as far as tech subjects go, that’s it. Even Poetry has 140 books on offer.

That has to be something of a wasted opportunity. Blurb might be ideal for photographers who want a low-cost way to publish their images and make them available for sale, but a service created by a former software CEO and reliant on a pretty unique piece of publishing software must have something to offer geeks.

You don’t have to be an outstanding writer to produce a book that can sell through Blurb. Like Gina Trapani, you just need to have a central theme around which you can hang your ideas.

And a marketing plan to bring people into Blurb and persuade them to place their orders.

Get both of those right, and you can make the most of Blurb’s opportunity.

[tags] blurb [/tags]

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